A Conservative minister has been branded “out of touch” after suggesting people … drown the sorrows of 2020 with a £170 bottle of champagne.
Amidst an economic recession and global pandemic, minister for housing Christopher Pincher … described Krug Grand Cru Cuvée as an “alternative vaccine” against the “memory of last year”.
In an article for conservative culture magazine The Critic, the minister wrote that a bottle of the wine was “ideal for lifting the spirit and lighting up a darkening winter afternoon,” noting its flavours of “tart satsuma” and “light, tight, nutty effervescence”.
Labour’s Mike Amesbury, shadow minister for housing, described Mr Pincher as “truly out of touch and breathtakingly arrogant.”
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
The High Court has ordered the legal teams acting for myself and Rachel Riley to move onto the next stage of her libel action against me.
This means we have to fill out a ‘directions questionnaire’ containing details including, for example, the names of any witnesses we wish to call.
More interesting, though, is the possibility of “alternative dispute resolution” – meeting with Ms Riley’s legal team in order to end the case without going to trial.
Courts take the view that litigation should be a last resort, and that claims should not be issued prematurely when it is possible for the parties to come to a settlement. If parties refuse to consider this option, then the court may penalise them when determining costs.
This was made clear in the ‘Pre-action Protocol for Defamation’ that Ms Riley’s lawyers sent me, almost a year ago.
But when my own legal team contacted them to discuss the case, they filed proceedings against me rather than take this reasonable step.
I’m still happy to have a chat about it.
It seems silly for Ms Riley to be determined to waste thousands of pounds forcing a trial in which her own behaviour will be dragged into the light, for all to see and condemn.
But, for the time being at least, it seems that is what she wants to do.
She still knows that I can only take the case to trial with your support, while she can rely on her TV-derived riches to, basically, buy a verdict against me.
If you think that it is unreasonable to force a trial when an alternative settlement is available, then please contribute to the CrowdJustice fund.
The only way to discourage Ms Riley from her apparent plan is to convince her that she can’t buy a verdict and faces the possibility of the facts being brought out in court.
Email five of your friends, asking them to pledge to the CrowdJustice site.
Post a link to Facebook, asking your friends to pledge.
On Twitter, you could tweet in support, quoting the address of the appeal.
On other social media platforms, please mention the campaign there, quoting the appeal address.
I’m offering Ms Riley a chance to avoid expensive court proceedings but so far she hasn’t taken it. To me, that seems to show that she is less interested in justice than in bullying a poor person.
If you agree, please give what you can to make sure she is foiled.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
The incompetence is hilarious – and some Tories thought Jacob Rees-Mogg could be ‘prime minister’ material!
Look at this:
Conservative Eurosceptics are on the back foot after their plan to publish a detailed blueprint for the UK’s relationship with the EU fell apart.
Tory Eurosceptics last week circulated a 140-page draft Brexit plan, which was meant to prove to Mrs May that they had a fully worked-up alternative blueprint, rooted in a trade deal similar to the one signed between Canada and the EU in 2016.
But Jacob Rees-Mogg, head of the pro-Brexit European Research Group, which led the work on the plan and counts as many as 80 Eurosceptic Conservative MPs among its members, said on Monday that the full document would not be published.
“The truth is that we reconsidered,” he said.
The truth is that he realised his plan wouldn’t work.
Now his European Research Group party-within-a-party will be reduced to bitching about individual issues.
The collapse of this plan will have no bearing on Theresa May’s ‘Chequers’ plan which has already fallen apart, having failed to find favour with Conservative backbenchers.
We should not be surprised at these developments.
All Conservative efforts with regard to Brexit are just attempts to play for time.
They intend to wait until the very last possible moment, and then make a deal that forces the very worst possible conditions on the working people of the UK.
Off the rails: Should railway companies be renationalised in the national interest?
A group of 15 Labour MPs have issued a public statement this morning, expressing concern about elements of Labour’s policy agenda, and urging a change of course in three key areas, according to LabourList.
The letter – signed by MPs on the left of the Parliamentary Labour Party – calls for an alternative to Labour’s current deficit reduction plans, public ownership of the railways and a return to collective bargaining and employment rights in the workplace.
Here’s the statement in full, which outlines the signatories preferred alternative approach:
1 An alternative to the continuation of austerity and spending cuts till 2019-20
All three main parties, tragically, seem to agree that deep spending cuts must continue to be made until the structural budget deficit is wiped out in 2019-20, even though wages have already fallen 8% in real terms, business investment is still below pre-crash levels, unemployment is still 2million, the trade deficit in manufactured goods at over £100bn is now the largest in modern history, and household debt is now over £2trillion and still rising.
The Tories want to continue with these cuts because it gives them political cover to achieve their real objective which is to shrink the State and squeeze the public sector back to where it was in the 1930s.
It isn’t even as though the deficit is being reduced by these savage cuts. Because the reduction in the government’s tax revenues as a result of shrinking incomes exceed the spending cuts, the deficit (which is still nearly £100bn) is likely to rise, not fall, in 2014-15 and in future years.
There is an alternative way out of endless austerity. We need public investment to kickstart the economy out of faltering growth and to generate real job creation and rising incomes.
It can readily be funded. With interest rates at 0.5%, a £30bn investment package can be financed for just £150m a year, enough to create more than a million real jobs within 2-3 years. And even without any increase in public borrowing at all, the same sum could equally be funded either through the two banks which are already in public ownership, or through printing money (quantitative easing) to be used directly for industrial investment rather than for bond-buying by the banks as hitherto, or through taxing the ultra-rich by a special levy.
2 Returning rail franchises when expired to public ownership rather than subjecting them to competition
The essence of rail reform must be to reverse fragmentation, to reintegrate the system under public ownership, and to run it in the public interest. At present Britain has the highest fares in Europe. The additional costs of privatisation to public funds are estimated at more than £11bn, or around £1.2bn a year, so that the costs to the taxpayer are now three times as much as under British Rail.
Since 2010 rail fares have increased 25%, yet at the same time more than £200m a year has been paid out in dividends to shareholders or overseas state-owned rail companies which now hold two-thirds of the current rail franchises. Over 80% of the public want the railways re-nationalised, which must include a significant proportion of Tories.
The most obvious and simplest way to achieve this is by letting the rail franchises expire and then taking them back into public ownership at no cost whatever to the taxpayer. To subject them to a public bidding competition with private bidders is not only wholly unnecessary but sends out the wrong signals, as though we’re not confident of our own ideology. The Tories certainly didn’t offer a competitive option when they forced through privatisation!
Anyway, the franchise process, so far from being economic, encourages the gaming of wildly optimistic passenger number projections and this, combined with huge legal contract complexity which is bureaucratic and wasteful both in time and money (except for the lawyers and accountants), has led in the past to franchise failures and operating chaos, most notably on the East and West Coast lines. From past experience public ownership has consistently worked better, and we should not gratuitously throw obstacles in our own path in getting there.
3 The need for the restoration of collective bargaining and employment rights as a check against excessive corporate power
When the Thatcher government came to office in 1979, 82% of workers in the UK had their main terms and conditions determined by a union-negotiated collective agreement. The latest figures now show that the coverage is down to just 23%. One very significant result is that the share of national income going to salaries and wages has fallen dramatically from 65% in 1980 to 53% in 2012 – a loss to employees of some £180bn!
This has happened partly from the collapse in trade union membership from 55% of the workforce in 1979 to 23% in 2012. But it has also happened partly as a result of the anti-trade union laws introduced in the 1980-90s and partly because the state has withdrawn support for collective bargaining as part of the free market ideology of de-regulation of all markets, including the labour market. It is somewhat ironic however that de-regulation of the labour market requires the tightest regulation of one of the key players in that market, the trade union movement.
An incoming Labour government should choose to enhance the role of trade unions because trade union rights are human rights, a trade union presence creates more just and equal workplaces, and trade union collective bargaining is more redistributive than statutory wage setting and will assist on the road from austerity. We should therefore actively promote sectoral collective bargaining and strengthen the rights of trade unions to recognition, and of their members to representation.
It seems there are very few, if any ‘qualified providers’ from the private sector currently working in the English National Health Service, according to the latest issue of Private Eye (#1382, p38).
It states: “When the government decided to flog off large chunks of the NHS, it insisted that private providers must ‘qualify and register’ before being allowed to offer NHS-funded services.
“But the NHS regulator Monitor never carried out the promised ‘assurance process’ to test whether providers were suitable or not. It confirmed that it held no register of ‘any qualified providers’ and a spokesman even said it would ‘love to know where there is a list’.
“Monitor only licenses organisations that hold NHS contracts worth more than £10 million a year. This leaves the vast majority of smaller ‘alternative’ providers and non-profit businesses unchecked.
“NHS England doesn’t check them either. Not only does it not hold any list, but it has also stopped providing support to local clinical commissioning groups to enable them to check the credentials of companies that are bidding for contracts. It has closed its online ‘Any Qualified Provider Resource Centre’, along with the Supply2Health website which at least listed contracts and current providers.
“All that can be found after a determined trawl through the Care Quality Commission website is a cobbled-together list of 41 mainly small-care providers, many of which have not been inspected, leaving the issue of whether they are ‘qualified’ open to question.
“Responsibility for deciding who ‘qualifies’ to carry out NHS work falls therefore not on those who are supposed to scrutinise and regulate NHS services but on local health purchasers. As the Health and Social Care Act doesn’t define what ‘qualified’ means, health ministers have neatly opened up a postcode lottery in healthcare when certain companies may be accepted as qualified by some local commissioning groups, but not others.”
In fact, it’s worse even than that.
Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) were sold to the public on the premise that they would be composed of doctors – mainly GPs. But the CCGs’ own management teams are in fact steered by private sector consultants – McKinsey, Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Capita, you know the names because they belong to all the usual suspects (see NHS SOS, Jacky Davis & Raymond Tallis (editors), pp24-25). Some of these organisations provide their own healthcare services, creating an opportunity for corruption that makes utter nonsense of the assurance ‘no decision about me, without me’ made by Andrew Lansley when he was pushing the Health and Social Care Act through Parliament.
So, if you live in England and you are told you need a health service that is only offered by a private provider – you demand to see proof that they are qualified to run the service. Who checked them? To what standard? Don’t be fobbed off with an assurance that the CCG has given them the thumbs-up – ask what organisation advised the CCG. Get to the bottom of the matter.
You might find that your ‘qualified provider’ doesn’t have any qualifications at all.
And then who’s liable if your treatment goes wrong?
Homeless: The Bedroom Tax has forced the eviction of an ever-growing number of social tenants. How many people have been evicted because of Local Housing Allowance?
It seems every debate on the brutal Tory Bedroom Tax has lately been overshadowed by some ill-informed commentator claiming that the Labour Party cannot oppose the measure because it imposed its own version of the same thing on the private rented sector, years ago.
Such a claim was made on the Vox PoliticalFacebook page yesterday (Thursday) and Yr Obdt Srvt promised to seek out the facts.
Thanks to today’s debate on the Affordable Housing Bill, there was no need to look very far.
As mentioned in the debate, Labour imposed the Local Housing Allowance in order to stop private tenants from abusing the Housing Benefit system by moving into accommodation that was larger than they could afford – remember, private rented accommodation is more expensive than social housing – and forcing the taxpayer to fund the difference.
Labour’s measure was imposed only on people moving into privately rented accommodation after the LHA law was enacted.
So, for example, a single person might choose to take a place with two bedrooms. Before LHA was brought in, they could claim housing benefit on the property and rely on the taxpayer to stump up for the extra space. LHA means they get the money required for what they need – and they have to pay for the extra space. This is fair because moving into the larger property was their choice.
As with ordinary housing benefit, if a tenant’s circumstances change for the better, the amount of benefit payable is reduced. Why should a private tenant expect preferential treatment?
It seems that private landlords, who have been charging more than they should, have been angered by the imposition of the LHA and have chosen to wage a propaganda war against it, claiming that it is the Bedroom Tax by another name. Note that they are not against the Bedroom Tax, because it drives social housing tenants to the private sector.
Compare that with the Bedroom Tax. The Tories have imposed a charge on people who are living in social housing that was allocated to them on the basis of their need and the accommodation that was available; it is not the tenants’ fault if the only available accommodation was larger than they needed (more appropriate dwellings had probably been sold off under a previous Tory government’s ‘Right To Buy’ scheme).
The Conservative Bedroom Tax was imposed retrospectively – that is, it affected people who were already sitting tenants rather than those moving into accommodation. It was not intended to combat abuse of the system but was simply a way of robbing social tenants of help that they needed.
And the Bedroom Tax was imposed in the knowledge that the amount of alternative accommodation available to social tenants who needed to downsize in order to avoid the charge was only a fraction of what was needed. These people were trapped by this cruel legislation and driven into debt – in stark contrast to the Labour legislation which only affected people choosing to move into accommodation that was larger than they needed.
There is a huge difference between the Local Housing Allowance and the Bedroom Tax.
Any claims that they are similar must be rooted either in stupidity or in politically-motivated malice.
Have a good look at the picture above. If you click on it, you should get a larger version.
The sign it depicts was erected on the wall of the Daily Mail offices in London yesterday by an organisation calling itself Crowdwish (@crowdwish – “The most popular wish of the day actioned. Today, tomorrow and forever.”) and the tweet accompanying this picture stated: “For one – very satisfying – hour the sign below adorned The Daily Mail offices this afternoon.”
“The fact is that bad news sells; negative events cause spikes in TV ratings, sales of papers to rise and increases in traffic online,” the article continued – and this is fair comment; Vox Political‘s own highest reader figures have been generated by disasters like the passing of the Gagging Law.
The article explained: “Man’s (and women’s) most primeval survival skill is to stay out of harms way; to be alert to threats or danger, and our brains are therefore hardwired to be highly responsive to negative stimuli. Bad is stronger than good because bad is inherently more threatening.
“As a result the media cater very directly to that powerful physiological reaction, giving us more of that which we fixate on and respond to, resulting in a slant towards negative news.”
“It’s more hilarious than offensive but led us to want to have a cheap laugh at the Mail’s expense this afternoon, it being Friday and all.
“So we made a faux-marble sign that we thought displayed a more accurate depiction of the Mail’s true editorial values, and sent someone – dressed as a workman in hard had and Hi Vis vest – to fix it to the side of their building in Kensington.
“Amazingly, it was a full hour before somebody noticed and removed it.
“Yes, we know the Daily Mail is an obvious target, and no, we don’t think it was very grown-up.”
It must have felt good, though.
Anyone wishing to keep an eye on Crowdwish’s future activities – or who wants to make a request – can do so via the address above.
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Don’t be complacent: It may seem as though the Coalition government that has blighted the UK for the past three years is marching willingly to its own demise – but that is by no means certain. We must all be vigilant against the apathy that allows them to spread their poisonous views and convince impressionable people that they are speaking common sense ideas that are held by the majority, when we all know that this is a falsehood.
So Gideon George Osborne is announcing £11.5 billion of cuts to be implemented from April 2015 to the end of March 2016 – so what? There will be a general election the following month and he would be delusional if he thinks his party will win.
Ed Balls has said Labour would match the Coalition’s spending totals for that financial year, but we should not be fooled into believing this means Labour would make exactly the same choices as a Conservative or Conservative-led government. It won’t.
Ed Balls could cancel the lot and, working with a decent Labour Work and Pensions secretary (not Liam Byrne), install a new system aimed at the causes of unemployment, sickness and disability, and still pay less than the current government.
You see, Tories aren’t really about saving money for the taxpayer. They’re about making poor people pay taxes to support rich people who don’t need them.
That’s just one – extremely oversimplified – example of why I don’t think we have to live in a country dominated by ‘Ballsbornism’, even though I coined the expression earlier today in a response to a comment.
‘Ballsbornism’ implies a consensus economic policy, much like the ‘Butskellism’ of the 1950s that married the ideas of Tory Rab Butler and Labour’s Hugh Gaitskell, and recent announcements by Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have stirred up fears that the Labour front bench has capitulated to the Tory economic viewpoint.
This blog has been part of that, and I make no apology for it. Like all political movements, Labour must be made to see that it cannot take the easy way out. People’s lives – no, I’m not making this up – depend on their decisions and those lives will be on their conscience if they cock up the system (as Osborne has been doing) or make lazy decisions.
The Tory-led Coalition likes to say its policies on benefits “encourage” people to sign off (and goes on to suggest that they then get jobs, although the evidence is overwhelmingly that they end up with no form of income at all); if we want better for our future, then the people of this country must similarly “encourage” Labour into policies that will genuinely improve our situation.
I have outlined my opinion of what those policies should be, in a previous article, so need not rehash them here.
And let’s remind ourselves of the absolute lunacy that could be foisted on us if the Conservatives come back into power: Tory backbencher Peter Bone, alongside similar-minded nutters, has compiled an alternative Queen’s Speech (or is it an alternative to the alternative, as Labour already produced one?).
This suggests restoring the death penalty for criminals (we all know this leads to injustice); privatising the BBC (more money for rich Tories who don’t deserve it, along with a diminished and politically-biased national broadcasting service), abolishing human rights legislation (to the huge detriment of all citizens and working people who rely on it, as discussed many times on this blog), and renaming the August Bank Holiday as ‘Margaret Thatcher Day’ (an insult to everybody whose lives were blighted by her policies).
Bone, whose bizarre pronouncements create semi-regular moments of comedy during Prime Minister’s Questions, told the BBC he was “putting forward Conservative policies” that would be “very helpful” to David Cameron.
This is an elected Conservative member of Parliament, remember – one of several who have drafted these proposals. And let’s not forget the Free Enterprise group of Tory right-wingers, whose book Britannia Unchained suggests (wrongly) that British workers are among the laziest in the world, and anyone unemployed for more than six months should do 30 hours’ community service and lose 10 per cent of their benefits, as if being forced out of work by (Tory) employers was a crime!
So let Osborne have his moment, when he announces his review on Wednesday. Then reflect on where you’ll be putting your vote in 2015 and enjoy the prospect that he will have wasted his breath.
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